Purifying Water: Responding to Public Opposition to the Implementation of Direct Potable Reuse in California

By Kenney, Suzanne | UCLA Journal of Environmental Law & Policy, Summer 2019 | Go to article overview

Purifying Water: Responding to Public Opposition to the Implementation of Direct Potable Reuse in California


Kenney, Suzanne, UCLA Journal of Environmental Law & Policy


Table of Contents  Introduction  I.   A Framework for Legitimizing DPR  II.  Why DPR is Viable in California       A. California's History of Potable Reuse      B. Other Examples of Potable Reuse      C. The Future of DPR in California  III. Public Perception as an Obstacle to Implementation       A. The "Yuck Factor"      B. Failures          1. Los Angeles          2. San Diego      C. Success          1. Redwood City          2. Orange County  IV. Applying the Suchman Framework to DPR in California       A. Conform to Local Environments          1. Pragmatic          2. Moral          3. Cognitive      B. Manipulate Local Environments          1. Pragmatic          2. Moral          3. Cognitive  Conclusion 

Introduction

All water is recycled water. (4) Natural water undergoes a long cycle of purification and re-introduction into potable sources, (5) but manmade reclamation methods have made it possible to accelerate the natural process through the treatment and purification of water. (6) This Comment will focuses on one water source with specific treatment requirements: recycled wastewater. The term "purified water" will be used throughout this Comment to describe recycled wastewater that is suitable for potable use. (7)

There are two primary methods of recycling wastewater for potable reuse: Indirect Potable Reuse (IPR) and Direct Potable Reuse (DPR). (8) This Comment will focus on DPR, but to understand DPR it is important to distinguish it from IPR. In IPR, wastewater is treated and pumped into a groundwater basin or other water source. (9) The natural body of water serves as an environmental buffer separating the treated wastewater from public drinking water systems. (10) The treated wastewater remains in the natural body of water until it is taken to a drinking water plant, where it undergoes further treatment before it is determined safe for human consumption. (11) Then, the purified water is introduced into a potable water distribution system where it is pumped to residences and buildings for potable use. (12) It is well-documented that IPR produces drinking water of exceptional quality. (13)

In contrast, DPR is the process of recycling water without using an environmental buffer. (14) As a result, wastewater can be treated and introduced into a potable system within a matter of hours. (15) DPR adheres to the same, or higher, treatment objectives as IPR and experts believe it may produce higher-quality water than IPR. (16) There are two main methods of DPR. The first method involves the planned introduction of recycled wastewater directly into a public water system. (17) In the second method, recycled wastewater is introduced into a raw water supply immediately upstream of a water treatment plant. (18) If implemented correctly, DPR provides a self-sustaining water source that, because of its efficiency, is drought resistant. (19)

Today, there are no uniform state or federal regulations for DPR in the United States. However, California may be on the brink of passing uniform state regulations for DPR. In January 2018, California State Assembly Bill 574 (AB 574) took effect. (20) AB 574 requires the State Water Resources Control Board to develop DPR regulations by the end of 2023, provided research on public health issues is completed. (21) Uniform regulations will be a momentous step toward the realization of DPR technology and, California's DPR regulations could serve as a template for other states. However, California's success depends on public acceptance of DPR as a legitimate source of water, and the public has a history of rejecting potable reuse projects.

This Comment explores the public's negative perception of potable reuse in California, which is a major obstacle to the implementation of DPR technology in the state. Unlike other research on this topic, this Comment will demonstrate the extent to which a uniform legal framework influences public acceptance of DPR. …

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